Explain the Main Elements of the Persian Religion and Assess the Extent to Which Xerxes Used Religion to Support Empire.
The Persians had originally worshipped many minor gods before the teaching of Zoroaster were adopted by Darius and the Xerxes. These minor gods were called Daevas. Darius and Xerxes had replaced the Daevas with Ahuramazda as the Persian god to worship. From the leadership of Darius and Xerxes, the Persian was Zoroastrian religion, this religion believed in rituals such as Lan-sacrifice which was cantered on making offering to a god or traditional cult. The Persepolis tablet gives evidence that these rituals were supported with regular rations every month.
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Ration such as grain, flour, wine, beer, fruit and royal rams from the royal warehouse. Other type of rituals involves a special drink called Haoma. Persian believed in good and evil spirits. A few sculptures were found which gave evidence of this. The main symbol of evil was a lion, bull, winged lion. They believed in the God, Ahuramazda, there is a constant battle of the good of Ahuramazda and the evil of a bad spirit named Ahriman. Someday good will win and time will end and the dead will return to life; these are the general beliefs of the religion.
The magi were the priest of the temples of fire; the magi acted for the king, they were an important part of the religious policy of the Achaemenid. Xerxes’ policies generally followed the beliefs of his father Darius and his reforms. Xerxes followed the same pattern of appointing a mixed government of local and Persian rulers and to grant local independence to the rulers. However, in his religious policies Xerxes differed from Darius. Darius was a strict follower of Zoroastrianism and constantly reminds the will and favour of Ahuramazda and Arta behind his every action.
There is no evidence that Darius ever tried to force his beliefs on the people of his empire, and he is generally considered a generous ruler in the matters of religious freedom. On the other hand, Xerxes, in one of his inscriptions, says “… and in one of these countries, there places where false gods were worshipped. Afterward, with the favour of Ahuramazda, I destroyed the sanctuaries of the demons and I declared that demons should not be worshipped. Where before demons were worshipped, I worshipped Ahuramazda… ” (Kent, XPh). This says this Xerxes was forcing his beliefs on part of his population.
The Daevas inscription gave strong evidence that Xerxes was a follower of Zoroastrian teaching and the god Ahuramazda. Xerxes was against the Daevas, he had no tolerance towards people who worshiped Daevas. Xerxes also stresses the importance of Ahuramazda in many inscriptions for example 4d. (46-56) “ The man who has respect for that law which Ahuramazda has established, and worship Ahuramazda and Arta reverent(ly), he both becomes happy while living, and becomes blessed when dead”. This inscription is significant because he mentions the importance of another god.
The holy Arta is “righteousness” in Zoroastrian beliefs. According to the historian Cyler Xerxes was a good Zoroastrian. Xerxes’ strong religious beliefs caused the alienation of the Egyptian clergy when he refused to be crowned with the Egyptian traditions and with the blessing of the god “Amon-Ra”. Although the immediate outcome, the refusal of the clergy to inscribe Xerxes’ name on the coffin of Ra’s bull, were minimal, this event can be credited for the re-emergence of Egyptian opposition that eventually separated Egypt from the rest of the empire.
The most serious event of Xerxes’ prejudice occurred in the case of the rebellion in Babylon. From August 10-29th of 482 BC, a local Babylonian nobleman called Bel-Shimanni, declared himself the king of Babylon and killed Satrap Zopyrus. In the same year, economic documents of Bar-sippa and Dilbat were dated by his reign. On September 22, Shamash-eriba deposed and replaced Bel-Shimanni in Bar-sippa and Babylon itself. Megabyzus, Xerxes’ brother-in-law and general, immediately descended upon Babylon with a huge force and crushed the rebellion.
As punishment, Xerxes started a campaign to destroy Babylon’s independence and central role in the empire’s financial system. After destroying the magnificent fortification of Babylon, and confiscating the property of the local nobility, he separated Syria from Babylon and makes it into a separate Satrapi. He also joined Babylon with the Satrapi of Assyria, and the province was renamed Chaldea. But the most severe punishment was the removal of the golden statue of the god Marduk from the Esagila temple which ended Babylon’s role as the centre of power in Mesopotamia.